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A school board helps to determine educational policy and administrative procedures in a school district. It usually shares power with another institution, such as the local municipal government or the state and federal departments of education. In some cases, the title of the board is also used to refer to the school system under the board's control. State departments of education often include a statewide school board responsible for the oversight of local school districts and school boards as well.
The purpose of the school board is to provide oversight and governance for a school district and its schools. Its responsibilities include developing a system of accountability and setting the district's direction; ensuring the district's central administration staff pursues its stated goals; controlling the district's funds, and soliciting the support of the community.
Method of selection
About 93 percent of school boards are elected rather than appointed, according to a 2002 report on American school board compositions. Board members most often serve for a fixed term length, such as two or four year terms. In some states with legal term limits, board members are restricted from serving for more than a certain number of terms.
Elections for school board members are held throughout the year, with a significant portion of them being concentrated in May and November. Candidates can either be elected at-large by all voters in the school district, or they may be elected by voters who live in a certain geographic section of the school district. This section may be referred to as a district, place, ward or zone. To the left is an example of a school district whose school board seats are distributed according to certain geographic sections, instead of each board member representing the entirety of the district at-large.
School board elections are most often nonpartisan and feature comparatively low voter turnout and little campaign spending relative to state and national elections, although there are exceptions. Competitive races and large school districts tend to attract more community attention and higher voter turnout. Turnout is also substantially higher when the election aligns with elections for municipal, state or federal offices.
If a school board has appointed board members, the appointments are often made by the community's mayor or by state executive officials, such as the state superintendent of education or the governor. Examples of school boards appointed by mayors include Boston Public Schools, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Philadelphia School District. School board members are often appointed instead of elected in districts that have traditionally struggled either academically or financially under an elected board. In a majority of cases, appointed board members serve shorter terms of office than elected board members.
School board sizes vary from district to district, however, school districts within the same state tend to feature school boards of similar sizes. For example, most school boards in California have five members, while most school boards in Texas have seven members. Most school boards contain between five and 15 members. All boards have a top official who is nominated by the board itself. Other common officer positions include an assistant to the top official, a secretary and a treasurer. Some school boards also include a non-voting student representative or military representative, especially if the school district is near a military base. In some cases, the district superintendent serves on the board as a non-voting member. In Massachusetts, it is common for the local mayor to serve on the board as its chairperson.
The sovereignty of school boards differs from district to district and state to state. Some school boards have the authority to set and levy tax rates; others may only have the authority to recommend such measures to a legislative body, government official or to the community in the form of a referendum. In some districts, especially smaller or more rural districts, school boards may be involved in all personnel decisions. However, school boards are most often only responsible for the appointment and dismissal of the district superintendent, to whom they delegate the routine operations of the district.
In most districts, board members only hold "collective" authority when they meet and act as a board, not when they act as individuals. Many states publish guidelines for the conduct of board members. In some states, school boards have the power to invoke eminent domain to seize private property for school usage; however, such powers have also been challenged in the court system.
School board members frequently do not receive compensation and therefore serve on a volunteer basis, although they often receive reimbursements for their expenses in attending board meetings. Some school boards receive small stipends for each meeting. Particularly in large school districts, some board members may be paid thousands of dollars annually.
Many school boards hold open meetings and actively encourage the input and participation of parents, staff and community residents in significant decisions regarding the operations of the school district. They also publish the agendas and minutes of such meetings, although the comprehensiveness of such records varies from district to district. Some school boards issue documentation and reports to increase the financial transparency of the school system, although others keep such information confidential.
- School board elections portal
- Largest school districts in the United States by enrollment
- List of school districts in the United States
- List of school board elections in 2014
- Glossary of education terms
- National School Board Association
- American School Board Journal
- National Center for Educational Statistics
- United States Department of Education
- School Boards at the Dawn of the 21st Century, "Conditions and Challenges of District Governance," accessed February 6, 2014
- National League of Cities, "List of Mayor-Controlled Public Schools," accessed February 6, 2014
- Vermont School Boards Association, "Vermont School Board Member Roles," accessed February 6, 2014
- Florida Office of the Attorney General, "Advisory Legal Opinion - AGO 2005-09," February 9, 2005
- Community News, "School Board Rejects Financial Transparency," accessed February 6, 2014